The Kedleston Service
The service was commissioned in 1758 by Sir Nathaniel Curzon in the year that he succeeded to the ancient Derbyshire estate, although he had been planning Kedleston's aggrandizement since his marriage eight years previously to Caroline Colyear, daughter of Charles, 2nd Earl of Portmore. The style of the service reflects his taste for 'the antique', which he recalled by entering a poem in his architectural note-book that began with the lines:
"Grant me ye Gods, a pleasant seat, in attick elegance made neat"
Indeed the plate pattern, with its French-fashion, serpentined and cinquefoiled rim of laurel-twined reeds accompanied by a foliate guilloche-meander with flowers emerging at the points and inverted at the centres, demonstrates Sir Nathaniel's wish that, like the rooms, the service should be 'enriched with decent ornament'. While he was to employ James Paine (d.1789) as his executant architect, he continually sought advice from others such as Matthew Brettingham (d.1769), who was then acting as surveyor at Holkham Hall, Norfolk for Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester (d.1759), and acknowledged as England's 'Apollo of the Arts'.
In 1753 Sir Nathaniel's passion for antiquity would have been roused further by Robert Wood's publication The Ruins of Palmyra, and the plates' foliate guilloche would eventually derive in part from the flowered arabesques enlivening the Palmyreen Temple of Apollo. Sir Nathaniel was also to feature amongst the early patrons of James Stuart (d.1788), following the latter's return from studies in Greece and Italy; and in 1757 the 'Great Athenian' provided designs for Kedleston including its sideboard embellishments, such as the huge marble wine-cistern. Stuart's taste may also have influenced the choice of ornament for the dinner service, which was commissioned through the St. Paul's Churchyard workshops of Phillips Garden (fl.1738-1762), 'Goldsmith and Jeweller of the Golden Lion'.
Garden's account submitted on the 4th January 1759, lists under the date 25th March 1758:
Six dozn. baggot plates chasd wth flower edges etc...614.6.9.
Gilding a dozn chasd plates...£30.10.7.
Engravin 6 dozn. Arms on plates...£10.16.0.
Altering a chest of plates lind etc...£4.14.6.
Twelve baize bags and 4 for branches...£1.18.0.
Before the accounts had been settled Sir Nathaniel had consulted yet another architect, who had recently returned from his Grand Tour. This was Robert Adam (d.1792), who soon after his arrival in 1758 from Italy established a Mayfair practice that was conveniently close to Sir Nathaniel's London house in Audley Square. So it was Adam, who eventually completed the Kedleston banqueting hall and dining room, and whose elegant sideboard drew admiration in 1766 from the formidable Elizabeth Percy, Duchess of Northumberland for its 'vast quantity of handsome plate... which has a mightly pretty effect'. Adam later proposed publishing the Kedleston architectural plans in celebration of Lord Scarsdale's patronage of the Arts; and for this purpose had careful drawings prepared of the sideboard-niche. In a watercolour drawing, the golden plates are apparently portrayed with flowered centres in place of the Curzon coat-of-arms, which are engraved within acanthus-scrolled cartouches. Standing on opened cutlery-boxes, and accompanied by an ormolu Grecian tripod candelabrum, they functioned as golden wall sconces, displayed like libation-patterae to the Sun-God Apollo, whose role as leader of the Muses of Artistic Inspiration had now been assumed by Sir Nathaniel Curzon, first Lord Scarsdale.
The Kedleston Dinner Service gives a fascinating insight into the retail practices of the mid-eighteenth century goldsmiths. Executed by William Cripps, it was retailed by Phillips Garden. Cripps, a well recognised goldsmith of his time who enjoyed a considerable clientele of his own, was commissioned by Garden to produce the service for his client. Garden himself was also a well respected goldsmith whose work earlier in the decade, in the Rococo style, was highly regarded. Much of his work is reminiscent of that of Paul de Lamerie, undoubtably a result of Garden's purchase in 1751 of the latter's tools and patterns. Copies of his trade card survive and the engraving of the interior of his shop not only give a rare glimpse of an 18th century goldsmith's premises, but also stand testament to his role as one of the leading retailers of the period. Extensive as it was, the service was to prove insufficient for the lifestyle of Sir Nathaniel's son, also Nathaniel, 2nd Baron Scarsdale (1751-1837) and he commissioned additions to the service from William and John Frisby in 1813.